More kids are getting summer meals from food shelves – will trend continue in 2015?

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Hungry children visited food shelves more than 300,000 times during their school summer break in 2014, in what a nonprofit worries is becoming a "new normal" in Minnesota.

A report by Hunger Solutions released Thursday shows that visits to 300 food shelves across the state rose by 4 percent in 2014 compared to a year prior, with 9,000 people every day looking for food assistance.

And of those in need of food, 38 percent of them are children – a figure that gets proportionally higher during the summer months.

There were 313,000 visits from children during the summer break in 2014, up from 305,000 in 2013, and Hunger Solutions said these children belong to low-income families and turn to food shelves to replace the free school meals they are no longer getting.

"Hunger impacts a large number of children, seniors and working parents in every corner of our state," Hunger Solutions Executive Director Colleen Moriarty told the Pioneer Press. "I am alarmed that the rate of hunger is still elevated. Clearly, thousands of low-income Minnesotans have not enjoyed the benefits of the economic improvements."

Figures released in the U.S. Census last year revealed that 14 percent of Minnesota children (176,000) live in poverty, WCCO reports, which is defined as living in a household with an annual income of below $23,834 for a family of four.

The new normal?

On the broader scale, the nonprofit says the increased use of food shelves is tied to a "new economic normal," saying that many of those visiting food shelves have jobs, but are not being paid enough in the post-recession economy.

More than 1,000 workers and campaigners protested in the Twin Cities on Wednesday for this reason, with fast-food employees and janitorial staff among those joining a national movement to call for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, arguing that existing minimum wage levels barely leaves them enough to pay their bills.

Minnesota's minimum wage for large employers will go up to $9 an hour this summer, and will rise again next year to $9.50, according to the Minnesota Budget Project.

Also affecting food shelf visitor numbers, Hunger Solutions argues, were cuts to the SNAP program (formerly known as Food Stamps) in 2013, which it says caused 89,000 adults to lose their benefits in Minnesota – twice as many as predicted.

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